Mark tells us in 8:31-32 that Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law and that He must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this . . .”
Note that He “began” to teach them these things and that He spoke “plainly” in regard to them. We see Peter’s response in v. 33 and can only imagine what the rest of the disciples were thinking. Christ had healed people, and in some cases even brought them back from death—He couldn’t die! Yet He was repeatedly making it clear that He was on His way to being killed.
What kind of Messiah spoke like this?
Certainly not the kind they had envisioned.
But Jesus didn’t leave them in the lurch for long. Mark tells us that six days later He took Peter, James, and John up the mountain with Him where He was transfigured. The transfiguration is something like the unveiling of a statue or a great work of art. Before it is unveiled, it is covered with a sheet or canvas. You can’t tell much about the art underneath and its appearance certainly isn’t glorious. But when it is removed—you hear the “oohs” and “ahhs” and see something spectacular.
This is what happened with Jesus. Isaiah 53:2 seems to indicate that there wasn’t anything special about Jesus’ appearance. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” All that changes at the transfiguration where Jesus is seen in His glory. It’s a transcendent scene that initially frightens the disciples.
But there’s more. Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus and are talking to Him. Luke tells us the subject matter was “His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (9:31). Peter proposes building three shelters to mark the occasion and a cloud envelops them and the voice of God booms out saying, “This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him” (v. 35).
It’s clear that the transfiguration is sequel to Jesus revealing that the Messiah would die and calling His disciples to take up their own cross. How could they believe such a thing? How could they follow such a calling?
The answer might surprise us. It’s not faith, discipline, courage (although those all of those are involved to some degree). What the transfiguration shows that they needed so desperately to see was GLORY. They thought there was nothing glorious about Jesus’ dying, but they were mistaken. It was glorious because it revealed Christ and God. It was glorious because it redeemed the world. It was glorious because it fulfilled the Scripture. And all of that glory is pictured in Jesus’ transfiguration as He speak with Elijah and Moses about His “departure.”
This is exactly how disciples get on with carrying their cross. What they once thought had no glory they come to see as glory. It’s glory because it is the way of our glorious Lord. It is glory because it is the way of the His kingdom—we find peace, joy, and purpose when we take up our cross. It is glory because it is the way of community—we find true fellowship as a cross bearing community.
May God open our eyes to see the glory to which He has called us.